Homeless man living rough in Norfolk tells of hopes to escape destructive spiral
- Credit: Archant
Being homeless is more than not having a home. It's days filled with loneliness, weeks with no money and years with no hope.
Ask Wesley Smith, a 34-year-old who has spent the last two months living in a flimsy tent in a field beside Fakenham racecourse.
With a tent the size of an umbrella, Mr Smith is exposed to harsh cold weather and frequently finds his makeshift home flooded on a rainy day.
It's a scene not too dissimilar to a refugee camp - a far cry from the life a few yards away where racegoers gather betting thousands of pounds on horses.
'I was in King's Lynn for a week before moving here,' he said. 'I used to walk around the streets for a long time because there was nothing to do.'
He lived in a hostel for a short while before trying to take his own life with an overdose.
When asked why he tried to kill himself, he paused for thought.
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'I don't know,' he said. 'It's a feeling you get.'
It was only after a nurse in Queen Elizabeth Hospital mentioned Fakenham he decided to get a bus to a new place for a new life.
'I have tried the council to find a home, but they can't help me because I don't have any local connections,' he said. 'You must be living in the area for six months. 'I filled in a homeless application and was told to go to Diss for an assessment, which I missed because I had no money to get there.
'Now they are telling me they can't help, so I'm having to live in a tent.'
Originally from Old Harlow in Essex, Mr Smith's Romani family moved to Clacton-on-Sea, where he lived until he was 18 before falling in with the wrong crowd.
He has since lived a life peppered with drug and alcohol abuse and brushes with the law - a destructive spiral people with no place to call home find themselves falling into.
He is now 11 months clean but drinks on occassion. He used to drink 12 litres of cider on a bad day.
'When you're homeless your money goes quickly and then you're stuck,' he said. 'So you go thieving - you have to if you want to survive.
'I stole what I could to feed my habit but also to get food. I needed to rob to live, otherwise I'd spend hours doing nothing and days without food - you get desperate.'
He would get arrested for getting into petty fights with gangs who saw him as an easy target.
'I was bullied a lot by travellers, I got into a lot of trouble for standing up for myself.'
He was sent to prison after police found him in possession of a blade which he said he carried to protect himself.
'When I was released from prison I got no support and when you have a criminal record you're stuffed.' He said.
A criminal conviction has left Mr Smith with little hopes of finding a job. Having no address means he can't even apply for a job, and unable to register with a doctor despite needing medical attention for his arthritis.
This only serves to exacerbate his loneliness and declining mental health, having tried to take his own life multiple times in the 16 years he has been homeless.
'I tried to hang myself on Christmas Day, I was really low after my nan passed away a year before on the same day.
'You just don't see the point in living. This isn't any kind of life.'
As for the future, Mr Smith hopes to find a home and a job to lead a normal life. He is considering joining a recovery programme to stop drinking.
'It takes a lot of motivation, time and effort to get what you want,' he said. 'You can't let it get you down, you have to beat it and keep going.'
Help and support
North Norfolk District Council was approached for a comment but said it could not comment on individual cases.
However, a spokesman for the authority said it had a legal obligation to help those who are homeless or threatened with homelessness if they are eligible for assistance, in priority need, not intentionally homeless and have a local connection to the North Norfolk area.
Mr Smith has received support from Fakenham mayor Adrian Vertigan, who gave him a tent and clothing from the Salvation Army.
Mr Smith described him as 'a good guy and very helpful'.
He gets food from the Rev Francis Mason when he visits Fakenham Church and Mr Smith said he meets a lot of supportive people at First Focus, a Fakenham charity providing information and resources to people in the area.
Anyone who sees someone sleeping rough should report it to www.streetlink.org.uk or call 0300 500 0914